Six Easy Pieces – by Richard Feynman
Date read: 8/2/19. Recommendation: 8/10.
Perhaps the most accessible introduction to physics that there is. Six Easy Pieces highlights the easiest, foundational chapters from The Feynman Lectures on Physics – a book based on Feynman’s lectures to undergraduates at the California Institute of Technology between 1961-1963. The chapters discuss atoms, basic physics, how physics fits in with other sciences, energy, gravity, and quantum behavior. Feynman’s ability to reduce complex subjects into simple pieces and stories, weaving in his humor and showmanship along the way, made him such a fascinating, approachable teacher.
See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.
Features the six most accessible chapters from The Feynman Lectures on Physics (1963).
Intro on Feynman:
Demonstrated balance in his practicality and showmanship. “Feynman was driven to develop a deep theoretical understanding of nature, but he always remained close tot he real and often grubby world of experimental results.” Paul Davies
Similar to Benjamin Franklin, broke arbitrary rules at will, viewed his world and social environment as a series of puzzles and challenges.
“For Feynman, the lecture hall was a theater, and the lecturer a performer, responsible for providing drama and fireworks as well as facts and figures.” David L. Goodstein
On his teaching methods: “First figure out why you want the students to learn the subject and what you want them to know, and the method will results more or less by common sense.” Feynman
What distinguished Feynman was his ability to reduce deep, abstract ideas to something you could begin to wrap your mind around.
Fundamentals of physics:
Experimentation: “The principle of science: The test of all knowledge is experiment. Experiment is the sole judge of scientific ‘truth.’”
“The sole test of the validity of any idea is experiment.”
Imagination: But you also need imagination to take hints, guess at patterns beneath them, and run another round of experiments to check your guess. Similar to product development.
The most important hypothesis in all of science: “Everything is made of atoms…there is nothing that living things do that cannot be understood from the point of view that they are made of atoms acting according to the laws of physics.”
How to tell if a guess is right: 1) When nature has arranged to be simple with few parts so we can predict what will happen. 2) Measure against less specific rules derived from them. Bishop always on a red square, always check on our idea about the bishop’s motion by looking for that. 3) Approximation.
If it’s not science, it’s not necessarily bad:
Avoid getting trapped into a shallow perspective: ”If something is said not to be a science, it does not mean that there is something wrong with it; it just means that it is not a science.”
The small and large operate according to entirely different laws:
Things on a small scale behave like nothing you have any direct experience with.